I'm one of the ones who didn't have the 800,000B to stay in Thailand. Or the 400,000B to keep full time in a Thai bank. And so, after having lived here (there?!) for 21 years non-stop, I took the plunge, sold up, and have been living in Vietnam now for the last 6 months. I never acquired a Thai wife and for the last 2 years had been living by myself anyway, so no ties in that direction. But there were a great many things that I never saw written about Vietnam. For those of you contemplating the move, here's some of the downside.
The police are even more ineffectual than in Thailand, and very much more corrupt. Crime is so rife that everyone accepts the fact. If a stranger appears on your roof with a ladder at 3 am, the accepted behavior is to turn all the lights on and shout at him as loud as you can while banging two saucepans together. Nobody calls the police, as they won't respond. What, to us, is an alarming level of anti-social behavior seems perfectly normal to the Vietnamese. If a Viet describes his neighborhood as 'very secure', he doesn't mean there's no crime, he means that all the houses have security bars on the windows and padlocks on all outside doors and gates.
There is now a Facebook group for Saigon with nothing but photos of thieves and robbers that have been spotted lurking or robbing or getting away on motorbikes.
Motorbike theft is rampant - there are 2,000 bikes stolen in Saigon alone every month. Smartphones are a prime target for drive-by thefts - dozens a day in every tourist area snatched out of unsuspecting foreign hands.
However, outside of the tourist centers, the ordinary Vietnamese seem to be honest and warm-hearted. Their interface with foreigners takes a bit of getting used to – the Viet men in particular. Thai people seem to grin all the time for no real reason. The Vietnamese people do not. Men seem to wear a constant scowl: women less so. But when they get to recognise your face this all relaxes a bit.
Most of you will already know that the currency is insane. Bank notes with 6 zeros. It’s not so much the silliness of the numbers – it’s that there are SO many different notes in use. In the course of shopping and getting change, no matter how carefully you have arranged you money beforehand, you’ll find yourself stuffing lunatic change into your pocket. You’ll get a mess of currency that mixes together Viet notes worth 2.75 baht and 13 baht along with other notes like the 100,000 dong note, which is worth 137 baht – in-together with the half-million dong notes – worth a stately 700 baht.
15 years ago there were hardly any ATM machines in Vietnam, but due to increased tourism they’re now to be found everywhere. Unfortunately there’s a nasty little kneejerk here – most machines are limited to a maximum withdrawal of 2 million dong each time. That’s 2,700 baht or £66. There are always queues at ATMs because each customer stands there for 10 minutes, putting his card in and out, over and over again. Needless to say, there’s a fee each time. It’s happily only 27 baht (60 pence). But, using a First World card limit of, say, £300 a day, that’s 5 goes on a Viet ATM machine, with combined fees of £3.
Driving licences and insurance.
Vietnam is not included in the universal Geneva agreement which relates to international driving licences. So foreigners can’t legally be on the roads here. Well, not unless they get a Viet driving licence. This is easy to do, and cheap, but takes a whole day in a major city where there are test centres. Not to mention that (of course) all the forms and documentation are in Vietnamese.
BUT – as a foreigner your driving licence only lasts for the duration of your visa. Which for the majority of foreigners here is 3 months – but even for those here on a 1-year work visa it means a new test and licence every year. So 99% of people don’t bother with a licence. And the insurance implications are obvious . . .
There are no 7-11’s in Vietnam! Yes, there are ‘mini-marts’. But each one stocks different items. You have to get to know which ones to go to for specific things. Local markets are an alternative. But, again, you need to learn your way around each one. If you can find a Vinmart shop then that's the closest thing, but you'll probably have to make a special journey rather than just popping down the road. In Vietnam you can end up spending an afternoon going around 15 different shops just for half-a-bag of household stuff..
Some things just don't seem to be available, even by mail order (Lazada, Shopee etc) - and if you can find them they are very expensive. Cutlery sets, for example - knife, fork, soup spoon, tea spoon. Everyone here uses chopsticks (unlike Thailand) so bring a set of cutlery with you. You'll find chefs' knives quite readily. But not the Western-style cutlery.
Similarly, it's the same with dinnerware. Tiny plates and noodle bowls are found everywhere, but dinner services - dishware - are hard to find other than in specialist shops, at high prices. Another thing is bedding sets - bottom sheet, top sheet, pillows and bolster cases.
The general mis-use of the terms 'house', 'apartment', 'room' and 'home' is widespread. 30% of the time an advert that reads HOUSE TO RENT is actually advertising just one room with shared amenities. Likewise, the term 'apartment' is hugely abused, with most advertisers having no understanding of what an 'apartment' actually is. This is mainly because the term 'studio apartment' is in widespread use (to mean just one self-contained room, with bathroom/kitchenette inset).
ALSO be aware that there are literally hundreds of adverts for rentals being placed by 'agents'. 95% of these so-called agents are simply private individuals after a sales commission. This is common practice (offering a one-month's-rent finders fee) and it has attracted a large number of total idiots, particularly in areas where there are a lot of foreigners pushing up the rental prices.
Every city has at least one competent hospital, but for specialised treatment you'll probably need to go to HCMC. But then it's only $100 return to fly to BKK, if it's not an emergency.
Importing your things:
Be very careful about shipping your goods, even via a company like DHL, which is expensive but guarantees to oversee the process. Used household items are free of VAT and import duties. BUT Vietnam customs will expect you make a customs declaration when you enter, and that means you need the shipping documents to hand from DHL, and if your goods have not been shipped yet, that's a nightmare. If, like me, you want to spend time finding somewhere nice to live before shipping your stuff - beware. There is a 30-day limit. If your goods are not shipped within 30 days of you arriving in Vietnam, you'll end up paying import duties. Better to carry as much as you can onto the aircraft when you come - but that defeats the whole object of bringing your goods in once you are settled.
BUT - the upside of moving to V'nam compensates for this. The overall general cost of living is more or less half of living in a big city in Thailand - certainly you'll spend one-third less every month. Internet and phone data plans are a fraction of the cost of Thailand. Buying a motorbike is cheap, instantaneous and needs no registration. Air fares are really cheap - about $100 to fly return to Bangkok and much less if you fly domestically. The immigration process is simple and straightforward - most people stay on 3-month tourist visas and keep renewing them without any problem. (It used to cost me about 2,500 baht monthly to maintain a Visa/Work Permit and do a border run every 90 days . . . yes, I know, I could have opted for an annual visa extension. But now I fly to Bangkok for a few days and am budgeting 2,000B a month for my visa run, including 2 nights in a BKK hotel).
Regrets? More people here have big domestic karaoke sets . . . overall the people are not initially as warm and open . . . it's harder to find imported Brit food . . . the Viet coffee tastes like cocoa . . . if you're in the wrong part of the country there a 6-month rainy season with some BAD rain . . . the language is as insane as the currency . . . but that's about it!